As our farm has grown, we are often asked “Are you at the Maple Valley Farmer’s Market?” or “Do you do farmers markets?“, and that is a question with a long answer!
A long time ago, when I lived on Whidbey Island, I was a vendor at the Oak Harbor Farmer’s Market.
I loved it. It was a weekly thing I looked forward to. It was however mid-week, from 4 to 7 pm, if I remember right. It was also seriously laid back. I was a soap crafter, and I sold fresh herbs (funny how some things in life don’t change fast…..even after 19 years). Our weekly fee was low, and showed up and had our cars behind our spots, for easy unloading and setting up. The market itself was under a canopy of evergreen trees. Shady, no concrete. It was a young 20-something hippy dream come true. The market also had a baked goods tent that was run by a volunteer. The health department let any vendor sell under the tent, so I often took homemade scones and cookies to sell.
But times have changed, and King County is much more restrictive. When we first moved to Maple Valley, the farmers market had yet to come together. Due to diligence of many volunteers, the market came to light in the spring of 2008, and has continued to grow.
However, for us there was a couple of reasons we haven’t joined the market.
- Not being in full production. While we produced a lot of produce this year, we didn’t have the consistency yet to do a one day market. It was easier to deal with customers one on one, via Facebook and word of mouth. This will change next year. We are in the process to change the land and it’s looking great!
- Very few local farms. In the first few years I often saw local farms (small, like us). It changed though. The small farms got a following and left, able to get traffic to their farms. As I looked at it this year, it is mostly Yakima based outfits. We cannot and WILL NOT compete with them. We are not growing at commercial agriculture levels. We are not hitting 3 to 5 farmer markets a week, buying 2 to 4 spots of space. That is not eating local. It stabs my heart every time I see a Maple Valley-ite comment on Facebook on how they are eating local and supporting local farms. No, you are supporting Eastern Washington farms.
- It’s too hot. Yes, that is a huge issue. The market has been held at the Rock Creek Elementary School since opening. It sits on black top. We can’t sell our soap, balms and oils in the heat of summer, as it is too hot for them. I don’t much like going to shop mid-summer. It wears me out. And black top doesn’t make one think of a farms frankly.
- The parking and traffic. I know: It’s a major reality for Maple Valley these days. As this small town grew up, traffic got bad and is getting worse by the year. The school is a pain to get in and out of. Left hand turns out are often impossible. There is also no sidewalk along Hwy 169 for pedestrians and bicyclists. We walk to the market, and do cut through a new development going in, but this wasn’t always an option. It’s still not an easy route. Hwy 169 is a loud, and fast, state road. Crossing 169 on a Saturday is jarring and often scary, as cars cut off pedestrians in the crosswalks if they are coming from the core of MV.
- The level of bureaucracy. While we do carry all needed permits, business licenses and insurance for our business, the application is very, very lengthy. It was jarring to me the first time I saw it. When I realized just how laid back the Oak Harbor one had been.
- Cost. Yes, it’s only a $20 application fee and $30 a week. But that adds up. It leads to higher cost of produce. I can cut deals when our customers buy a larger lot, and as well offer lower prices when we sell locally, direct. We’ve loved this year where we process orders, and leave them for our customers in insulated coolers for easy pick up.
So will we do farmer’s markets? I honestly don’t know. I have often wondered why the market isn’t held at the lodge area of Lake Wilderness Park. This summer, they held a one day event during Maple Valley Days, that was great! It was on grass, with a cooling breeze. No worries about traffic, plenty of ways to walk or bike in to enjoy it. I’d say this: if it was held at the park, it would seal the deal for us. As the market is done now, it is not feasible for us to use our bikes and trailers to haul our harvest to market (read above about lack of sidewalks/bike lanes). And that there is yet another reason: I walk most places and even bike. It’s our way now. We know we are not common in this, but it has been a great experience. And as part of the farm, my goal has been to develop a greener path in life.
So a long story here, but hopefully this explains why we didn’t this year, and might not at all. But you never know!